Will the Catechism Change on Marriage?

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The Rt. Rev. Daniel H. Martins, Bishop of Springfield, writes from the House of Bishops’ retreat about the day’s conversations on March 8, including whether to pay the president of the House of Deputies and whether the catechism’s teaching on marriage should be revised to use gender-neutral language:

The last hour of our afternoon before Evensong was given over to a report from the bishop members of yet another task force, this one having to do with “leadership compensation.” That sounds innocuously bureaucratic, but it is, in fact, politically charged. There is a strong move afoot to make the President of the House of Deputies a compensated position. Advocates would say that the job has evolved from merely holding the gavel when the HOD is in session every three years to something that is incontrovertibly full time, and therefore deserving of compensation. Opponents argue that the ministry of bishops is distinctive, and cannot be understood as in parallel to what the Deputies do. We cannot create a two-headed monster, where the Presiding Bishop and the PHOD are, in effect, co-primates. We decided to forego Indaba groups on this issue and hash it out in plenary tomorrow morning. Stay tuned. This one will be big before it goes away.

After dinner, I attended a voluntary meeting with members of the Marriage Task Force, along with a handful of others. This was an opportunity to dig more deeply into their convention resolutions, which have the potential to be seismic. They are proposing a “surgical” revision of the Prayer Book that would add to the BCP the rites currently authorized just “in the ether” for same-sex marriage, along with a concomitant change to the catechism that would make marriage gender neutral. If approved this year, that would constitute a “first reading” of Prayer Book revision, a process that would be cemented by subsequent approval in 2021. The kicker here, of course, is that while a diocesan bishop can decline to permit use of a trial rite “in the ether,” a bishop cannot proscribe use of material in the Book of Common Prayer. I cannot predict how this will all play out. There is a wide variety of opinion swirling around in the mix, and the legislative process at General Convention is a real sausage machine. But it will be a hot issue. And, to be frank, it deserved a lot more consideration than it is getting at this meeting of the House. If the events following 2003 were an earthquake, approval of anything like the [Task Force] on Marriage’s proposal would be a catastrophic aftershock. It is borderline dereliction of duty that this issue alone was not the focus of table talk, an Indaba session, and plenary discussion at this last meeting of the HOB before General Convention.

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